For the entirety of our lives, most of us have naturally gravitated towards people who look and think like we do. After all, that’s the most comfortable avenue you could go down. Many of us simply can’t handle dissent, and therefore choose, consciously or subconsciously, to eliminate dissenting opinions and experiences from our lives. For some, that looks like avoiding controversial topics altogether. For others, that means unfriending someone who posts something that upsets you. We do this IRL by selectively befriending individuals, but the more popular topic as of late is the growth of social media echo chambers.
Contentious conversations and opinions have surrounded politics tracing back through every election in American history, but now each individual person has a publishing platform. Everything seems louder, more chaotic, and more urgent than ever before. So to make ourselves more comfortable, we selectively expose ourselves to content. Our implicit (and explicit) biases guide us to follow people on Instagram who look and think like us. We choose to engage with the sources and tweets and posts that reinforce what we believe. We want to legitimize the way we think and feel, and algorithms reward and reinforce this.
But it’s important to acknowledge that most are too quick to blame social media algorithms for the development of such echo chambers, and too slow to take responsibility for their own behavior. The reality is that your social media echo chamber hinges on your media consumption choices and who you surround yourself with.
Here’s the thing. We need productive conversations now more than ever. We need more dialogue, not less. And while we don’t believe that social media is the most productive ground on which to conduct such discourse, there are a few ways that you can facilitate a more productive social media experience in which you embrace a diversity of perspectives without wanting to set your face on fire.
Here are 6 tips for eliminating your social media echo chamber.
1. Don’t unfollow or unfriend someone because they say something you don’t agree with.
Your first alternative option is to consider why you’re so quick to get inflamed at a dissenting opinion. Is it productive? No. Reframe your mentality and personal reaction, and mindfully engage with the content so that you don’t resort to knee jerk reactions. If you find that you just can’t get your reactions under control, your second option is to remove yourself from social media altogether for longer stretches of time. If browsing Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram is causing distress, take a step back and spend that extra time getting involved with a cause you care about locally and IRL. The point is, unfollowing or unfriending someone is not going to solve anything.
2. Take the conversation offline, or at least out of the public eye.
Whatever your politics, Obama closed his tenure with a key piece of wisdom: “If you're tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life.” If meeting up with someone to engage in challenging discussions is a little outside of your comfort zone, then widen your gosh darn comfort zone. But really, if you want to take baby steps, don’t bother getting heated in the comments section where other people can chime in and inflame the discourse. Move your conversation into DMs or email. Speaking from experience, long form email can be a productive space for conversing with someone who you would otherwise be quick to write off.
3. Follow people who look and think differently from you.
It will be uncomfortable. Likely your implicit biases will bubble to the surface, and you might be reluctant to acknowledge said biases. If they post something that you don’t agree with, make an effort to understand their perspective rather than dismissing it before fully engaging with it. It’s the harder road, but that’s how we grow and that’s how we find common ground.
4. Follow accounts from organizations and publications that are not a normal part of your worldview.
This doesn’t have to be political. Think about regions of the country, areas of the world, arts organizations, nature and exploration accounts. Getting a feel for everything non-political going on in the world will help you remember that there is more to life than politics, and there is still a lot of good to be appreciated.
5. Click on some links that you normally wouldn’t.
This relates back to #3. It’s about gaining some perspective and intentionally consuming content rather than simply engaging with content that reinforces your opinions. As they say, if you can’t make your opponent’s argument for them then you don’t truly understand the issue. So stop being intellectually lazy and start seeking out alternative viewpoints. The algorithms will pick up on this too and serve up some more stuff outside of your normal comfort zone.
6. Recognize that it’s not about changing people’s minds.
I’ve alluded to this several times already, but it’s about attempting to understand other people’s value systems and points of view, and recognizing them as valid. We believe that when it comes down to it, this is the most important thing you could do today. If you are waging crazy internet debates, you are not accomplishing anything. In most instances, everyone ends up further entrenched in their own contradictory viewpoints. If you can shift the way you approach what you see on social media and resist the urge to act as holier-than-thou, then you’ll walk away less anxious and dare I say, more informed.
Bonus: Here’s a Chrome extension that will make your Facebook newsfeed slightly less terrifying.
Facebook bombards you with numbers that quantify your social value, from likes and comments, to friend counts and shares. The metrics on the posts that populate your newsfeed likely entice you to click more than you realize. Installing the Facebook Demetricator will remove all of these numbers, which should help you engage more thoughtfully.
Creative Community Developer at Snapfluence.
I'm the Oxford comma's biggest fan.